By Erin Cashman
Since my debut novel, THE EXCEPTIONALS, was published, the question I get asked the most is how I became a writer. What I’ve discovered is that most people don’t want to hear about how I used to sit up in a tree and write stories when I was in elementary school. They want to know how I wrote a book and saw it through to publication. Each author has his or her own process. This is what works for me:
1. Write a novel. This seems obvious, but it is actually quite harder than it seems! It takes countless hours and fierce determination to see it through. At times you will have inspiration, other times you will trudge through the muck. You will be brilliant, you will be cliché. The important thing is that when you are done, you will have finished a first draft of a novel. If you are like me, when you write the words The End you will be incredibly proud and fairly certain that your manuscript is amazing and will require little revision. YOU WILL BE WRONG.
2. Put your novel away. DO NOT LOOK AT. Leave it for at least two weeks, preferably a month. Then, read it again. If you are like me, you will be fairly certain that it is the worst piece of crap that anyone has ever written. I try to take a first pass without revising, but just marking where the story drags, which characters are really just there to move the plot, and places that don’t work.
3. Now comes the real work – revising. Revise, revise, revise.
4. At this point, I interview my main characters. I ask the same questions all the time, such as: What is your deepest fear? What is your darkest secret? If you could meet one person in history who would it be? I always discover that I don’t know my characters as well as I thought. You will be surprised by what you learn.
5. Take your new found insight and go back and revise again, focusing on fleshing out the characters as much as possible.
6. Now you have poured your heart and soul into the manuscript, and you feel that it is pretty damn good. Read the whole thing out loud. You will know immediately when the dialogue is flat or artificial sounding. You will not only pick up on errors, but phrasing that might be grammatically correct, but off for some reason.
7. You may think you are done – but you’re not. You need a fresh set of eyes on your novel. And by that, I don’t mean your family or friends. Find a writing group or critique partner. I just did this recently, and I wish I had done it years ago. It makes a huge difference. It is not easy to sit in your writing group and listen to people pull apart your baby. You will have the urge to defend your boring or one dimensional characters, who, by now, are very real to you, and explain your convoluted plot. Bite your tongue. Take notes. LISTEN. You don’t need to take all of their advice, but pay attention to the big picture items. If your partner or group doesn’t really care about your main character, you need to fix it. Spend a day mulling over their advice.
8. Revise, revise, revise.
9. When you feel like your novel is the best that you can make it, put it away for at least a week, and read it out loud again, from start to finish with as few interruptions as possible. I usually start on a Saturday morning and finish it by Sunday sometime. Are you crying during sad parts? Swooning during the romance scenes? Is your heart racing during suspenseful parts? If so, you are done. Congratulations! You finished!
10. Rejoice! As Tom Clancy said, “Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.” Whatever happens now, whether you send out queries letter in hopes of publication, submit your manuscript to your agent or editor, self publish, or simply share your masterpiece with your family and friends, celebrate your accomplishment. You are a novelist.